Foodie on a Budget in Lima, Peru
By: Zach Diamond
Maybe as a result of Virgilio Martinez’s feature in the Netflix Series, Chef’s Table, Lima has been established internationally as a foodie city. Throughout the year, food-oriented travelers flock to Lima with reservations at world-renowned restaurants like Maido, Astrid y Gaston, and Central. However, during my time in Lima, I found that it is still very possible to witness the glory of Peruvian cuisine without emptying your wallet. If you are anything like me, going down paths less traveled is more fulfilling than eating at restaurants with tweezer food and white cloth napkins, anyways. Here are some tips for satiating your foodie appetite, on a budget.
Skip the Michelin Starred Restaurants
In Miraflores, I visited the famed Central Restaurant and ordered the tasting menu. While it was an incredibly unique experience, it was the flavors of the dishes that blew my mind. The genius behind Chef Virgilio Martinez’s menu is his implementation of hyperlocal ingredients. Organized by elevation, one dish will be derived from a specific river at 8000m above sea level, incorporating ingredients like rare tree bark and green algae. The textures and presentations achieved are indeed a result of culinary mastery and I highly recommend going if you frequent fine dining establishments or are trained in the culinary arts. However, as an average food lover, the overall experience went over my head. For me, it was akin to visiting a fine art museum as a non-artist. A white canvas with a lone shape in the bottom corner looks as if it could be easily replicated, but I don’t grasp the difficulty of the layering or the texture of the piece. The food at Central is just as much art as it is food. For someone looking for experimental yet affordable Peruvian food, I recommend going to Barra Lima in San Isidro. At Barra Lima, Chef John Evans tests the limits on what Peruvian cuisine really is, while incorporating indigenous and foraged ingredients. Although not cheap, a meal at Barra Lima is a fraction of the cost of one at a Michelin Starred restaurant. Plus, I like the casual vibe much more than the aloofness of fine dining restaurants.
Barra Lima +
Address: Av. Los Conquistadores 904, San Isidro 15073, Peru
Phone: +51 969 636 234
Follow Food Bloggers
Local Limeans appreciate their burgeoning food scene just as much as travelers, and many take to Instagram to document it. By following their feeds, you can find hip spots and newly opened restaurants that most tourists will miss. Before heading to Lima, I messaged a few bloggers on Instagram asking for recommendations and received lists of places that couldn’t be found on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Some accounts that I recommend are @sexyfoodperu, @gastronomicusmaximus, and @limalalindablog.
If you’re ready to eat like a true local, duck into a menú for lunch. During lunchtime, several small restaurants, convenience stores, and even houses offer a price-fixed, two-course meal costing usually around 8 soles (~$2.50). Popular for working-class Peruvians on break, menús tend to be crowded and loud, but utterly delicious. Serving traditional Peruvian comfort food, eating at menús is a great way to taste authentic dishes for cheap. For me, they offered a glimpse into what life is like as a working-call Limean. Read my entire guide to menús here.
With so many uniquely Peruvian ingredients, mercados are like candy shops for foodies. Whether you are buying produce to cook or simply browsing the exotic peppers and fruits, you can spend hours experiencing the wonderful and wild world of Peruvian mercados. You can also find several cheap and fresh cevicherias for lunch located near the fish vendors. The cleanest and most tourist-friendly market is definitely Mercado de Surquillo, right on the outskirts of Miraflores. Here is a great place to get your bearings before heading to a more bustling and authentic market like Mercado de Magdalena, where you will undoubtedly be the only tourist. At Mercado de Magdalena, I found the ingredients to be the same quality to those at Surquillo, but cheaper. Also, I found that several vendors at Magdalena were flattered that a tourist was visiting them. On multiple occasions, I was given free fruits to try since they appreciated my genuine interest in Peruvian ingredients. My plan of attack at the mercados was to go up to every visually appealing stall and ask a ton of questions. “Qué es eso? Es picante? Como lo usas?”
Mercado Surquillo +
Address: Surquillo 15047, Peru
Mercado Magdalena +
Address: Jirón Bolognesi 504, Magdalena del Mar 15086, Peru
As you surround yourself with locals in hip restaurants, divey cantinas, and mercados, don’t be afraid to ask your acquaintances for recommendations! Peruvians are incredibly passionate about their unique cuisine and, more often than not, are willing to provide insider advice on where to find great food.